The carousel, which later evolved into one of the oldest forms of amusement park rides, was actually first developed in the 12th century to be a high-intensity training exercise. Horsemen would ride around in circles trying to wack their opponents with a perfume-infused ball, much different than what we know a modern carousel to be.
The modern carousel, originated in the early 19th century, is a rotating circular platform whose “seats” are made to look like horses and various other animals, vehicles, and other imaginative objects. They are common staples at amusement parks, zoos and other family entertainment areas throughout the United States and the world.
While carousels were very popular in the United States at the 20th century, the Great Depression caused many to cease operation and others to be destroyed. When the economy finally recovered, technology allowed carousels to be made from aluminum and synthetic materials and, instead of steam-powering them, electric motors were used and many older carousels were refurbished. Of the 4,000 or so carousels built in the United States prior to the Depression, less than 150 survived.
With this relatively short history in mind, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway for Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350k with a much different type of carousel the main topic of discussion as changes to one of the series’ two road courses will be something to watch.
The full Sonoma layout, which was originally unveiled when it opened in 1968, incorporates the raceway’s signature sweeping downhill sequence of corners known as “The Carousel.” It plunges from turn four down through turns five and six and navigates a more than 200-degree radius turn before dropping onto Sonoma’s longest straightaway from the turn-seven hairpin. NASCAR first utilized the full 12-turn road course during its first Pacific Coast Late Model Division race at what was then called Sears Point Raceway in 1969 and on through numerous Cup Series, West Series, Southwest Series and Truck Series events until 1997. Since 1998, NASCAR had competed on a shorter, 1.99-mile configuration that bypassed The Carousel by connecting turns four and seven and calling it “The Chute.”
With the addition of The Carousel to its configuration, the scenic track in Northern California’s Wine Country grows from a 1.99-mile 10 turn road course into a 12-turn, 2.25 mile configuration. Kyle Busch is one of the few active Cup Series drivers to have competed on this weekend’s layout, albeit his experience was in a 1998 Legends race when he was just 13 years old.
No matter the configuration, Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Hazelnut Spread Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), is known to be someone who really enjoys making right and left turns on NASCAR’s road courses at Sonoma and Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International. To him, it feels like somewhat of a vacation as it’s a vast departure from the ovals that make up the majority of the Cup Series schedule.
Sonoma is one of numerous road courses where Busch has won as he has evolved into a constant threat to win. Before 2008, he received hardly a mention as a threat to win at Sonoma or Watkins Glen. But that changed shortly after his arrival at JGR at the start of 2008, when he promptly dominated the road-course scene, leading 130 of the 202 road-course laps run that year and captured victories at both Sonoma and Watkins Glen. He quickly established himself as a routine road-course contender and has been in the hunt for race wins on road courses ever since. In addition to his two wins at Sonoma in 2008 and 2015, Busch led 29 laps en route bringing home his second win at Watkins Glen in August 2013.
While his road-course success is well documented, Busch’s most memorable road-course win was the 2015 Sonoma event. After sitting out the first 11 NASCAR Cup Series races that season because of injury, he and the M&M’S team had 15 races to meet two requirements in order to make the 2015 playoffs. He needed to have at least one victory, and also needed to make it into the top-30 in driver points.
Busch’s Sonoma race that year was a turning point in his season as he snuck past seven-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson on a late-race restart to bring home an unlikely win, considering he had to deal with all the shifting and footwork that is required on the tight, twisty road course while still recovering from his leg injuries. It started a remarkable streak of four wins in five weeks, including three in a row at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, and the prestigious Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the season culminated with his first Cup Series championship.
Just 15 races into the 2019 season, Busch has already put together another championship-contending effort with four wins, featuring back-to-back victories at ISM Raceway near Phoenix and Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, along with his wins at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway and Pocono (Pa.) Raceway. Along with those wins, Busch and the M&M’S Hazelnut Spread team have been incredibly consistent, posting nine top-five finishes and 14 top-10s in the first 15 races as the Cup Series season starts to approach its halfway mark.
So, as they head to their annual stop in Wine Country, Busch and the No. 18 team look to lead the way on the “Carousel of Progress” onto the newly expanded Sonoma road course, hoping it leads to more success throughout the summer months.